"Our goal as an administrative team is to support the resource specialists and scientists in their work because we too, care about the land and its people."
June 1996 is the tentative office closure date for the Interior Columbia Basin Project office. Much of the Project's work is now complete.
The scientific documents are currently going through peer review or are in the final editing stages. They will soon be sent to the printer for final layout and publishing.
The management alternatives for the Draft Eastside Environmental Impact Statement have been identified and the Eastside EIS Team is working towards completing the document by the end of the calendar year.
At the project office in Walla Walla, about 80 federal employees from several agencies have participated in these efforts and much has been accomplished over the past two years. Additionally, about 20 employees have been working in the Boise, Idaho office on the Upper Columbia River Basin Environmental Impact Statement. Many of these employees sacrificed time at home with family in order to meet tight project timeframes.
There is still work to do, but the project is making the transition to a smaller staff, which is compiling and editing the documents. Approximately 30 people have returned to their home offices, or have gone on to new assignments.
With this transition, comes opportunities to conserve funds by reducing salary, travel, and other costs. With less need for daily interaction between team members, many employees still assigned to the project are now completing their assignments from their home units, while others only need to travel to Walla Walla for occasional meetings. As the workload decreases, the number of people remaining on the project staff will also decrease. Currently about 50 employees continue to work at the project office fulltime.
The project's administration staff is beginning to prepare a plan for transferring the project's furniture, equipment, and supplies to other agency offices or projects. Contracts and leases are being reviewed to determine what services or facilities are no longer needed.
Early next year the Draft Eastside Environmental Impact Statement will be printed and ready for public distribution. Many people who have actively followed the project will want a full copy of this document and all of its related appendices (about 750 pages). This will enable them to provide detailed input during the public comment period.
Many people are not interested in reviewing the entire EIS. These folks may choose the 60-page Executive Summary.
Please take the time to review the postcard on the back page of this newsletter. If there is an "I" on your mailing label, you will receive the executive summary only. If there is no "I" on your label, you will receive the unabridged document. If your address has changed or you would like to receive a different EIS document, please return the postcard by December 10th.
Release dates for Project documents have been revised. Currently most documents are in their final steps of preparation. Below are the current release dates for Project documents. These dates may change based on language in the Interior Appropriations Bill for 1996 (see accompanying article).
DOCUMENT PLANNED RELEASE DATE Scientific Framework for Ecosystem Management January 1996 in the Interior Columbia Basin Scientific Assessment for Ecosystem Management February 1996 in the Interior Columbia Basin Integrated Report Aquatic, Terrestrial, Landscape Ecology, Social, March 1996 Economic and Spatial Staff Area Reports Scientific Evaluation of Planning Alternatives February 1996 Eastside Environmental Impact Statement February 1996 Upper Columbia River Basin Environmental Impact Statement February 1996
Congress began debating the future of the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project in June. President Clinton's budget to Congress asked for $6.7 million to complete the Project. This included finishing the scientific assessment, draft and final Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), and Records of Decisions.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate proposed reducing the funding and changing the work to be completed. In September, a conference committee reconciled the differences between the two versions of the bill. At press time, neither the full House or Senate have approved the bill. Once approved by Congress, it must be signed by the President to become law.
The current September 21, 1995 language relating to the Project is found in Section 314 of the bill. The following is a summary of Section 314:
- Project is funded at $4.0 million.
- Publish and submit to Congress by April 30, 1996 the following: Scientific Assessment of the Interior Columbia Basin; Draft Environmental Impact Statements containing a range of alternatives and a methodology for conducting cumulative effects analysis but without a preferred alternative or management recommendations;
A summary of public comments received on the draft EISs - BLM and Forest Service units in the interior Columbia Basin are to review existing resource management plans in light of the scientific information in the assessment, and amend plans, where necessary, by either July 31, 1996 (non-significant amendments) or December 31, 1996 (significant amendments).
- BLM and Forest Service officials shall consult at a minimum with governors, county commissioners, and tribal governments on plan amendments.
Until the bill becomes law, neither the BLM or Forest Service can speculate how it may be implemented. However, the Project has reduced planned expenditures for this year.
The Project will continue as chartered by the BLM Director and Forest Service Chief until the final version on the bill becomes law. Once that occurs, the agencies will comply.
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Teams sent out the preliminary working draft review in October. Copies were sent to federal and state agencies, American Indian tribes, and a coalition of county associations representing Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Reviewers were asked to respond by the first week of November.
The preliminary working draft EISs discuss why current land and resource management plans need to be changed, give a description of the current biological, social, and economic conditions in the interior Columbia Basin (including parts of the Great and Klamath Basins in southern Oregon), and feature seven alternative management strategies for managing BLM and Forest Service administered lands. The team is currently analyzing the effects of implementing each management alternative.
Over the next two months the EIS teams will complete the effects section and edit, lay out, and print the documents. The draft EISs are scheduled to be available to the public in February 1996. A 90-day public review period is planned.